The Prophet's Last Sermon - progressive today?
The Prophet's last sermon if often used as an example of progressivism.
All human beings are equal, racial supremacy is unacceptable, women have rights, socio-economic inequality is despicable and should be fought against and so on
We still have so much to learn from this 1,400-plus-year-old cry and we are so much in need of this message of Muhammad in our broken time where we continue to struggle with almost identical issues in our global human community. We need to go back to these core teachings and examples of Islam and similarly strive for achieving an ethical and moral society, wherever we live, where no one inflicts nor suffers inequity, unfairness and in justice.
What's strange is just how this sermon has become popular in the past few decades. It certainly was not as popular during the time of our parents and their grand parents.
Let us example the sermon as quoted in the article to see what the author is saying and if we should really use the sermon as a guide for progressives today. As you read it, there is no doubt that the sermon was a good thing for its day. The ending of blood-killing, the doing good deeds are the main message. Yet, how does the author of the article make the leap to use it an example of progressivism today.
"O People, listen well to my words, for I do not know whether, after this year, I shall ever be among you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.What modern Muslim woman would agree with this example of progressivism?
O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Treat others justly so that no one would be unjust to you. Remember that you will indeed meet your LORD, and that HE will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (riba), therefore all riba obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer inequity. God has judged that there shall be no riba and that all the riba due to `Abbas ibn `Abd al Muttalib shall henceforth be waived.
Every right arising out of homicide and blood-killing in pre-Islamic days is henceforth waived and the first such right that I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabi`ah ibn al Harith ibn `Abd al Muttalib.
O people, the Unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calendar in order to make permissible that which God forbade, and to forbid that which God has made permissible. With God the months are 12 in number. Four of them are sacred, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Sha`ban. Beware of the devil, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.
O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under God's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. It is your right and they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste...
Their husbands can tell who to take as friends.
It is the husband's right to have a virgin for a wife.
The men take on the women and they should feed and cloth them.
Is this an example of women's rights we should look as an example today?
O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God (The One Creator of the Universe), perform your five daily prayers (Salah), fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your financial obligation (zakah) of your wealth. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.This often quoted verse is actually quite controversial. As the last sermon is merely pieced together from various hadiths from various sources. This particular one is not from the more trusted sources like Sahih Bukhari or Muslim. I'm still investigating this, but it appears on initial analysis that the Arab has no superiority over an Arab... has nothing to do with the original Hadith, The original hadith seems to stem from (Hanbal Hadith Ahmad #23489. cf. Ahmad #8736-17313-21407) There is a general statement on people having no superiority over each other except in piety. However, the parts emphasizing racial equality appear to be entirely made up. But I'm still investigating this. Nonetheless, the general idea of people being judged by their deeds is most definitely a good one.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
This one again is very interesting. While certainly not excluding it, this verse can be read in a very libertarian way. How does income tax or general taxation fit in here? Is it freely given or is it done by force? Not to mention, property rights seem like a universal thing, not just something that applies to Muslims. So why not say Nothing shall be legitimate to any person which belongs to fellow person?Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before God (The Creator) and you will answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
O People, no prophet or messenger will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand words, which I convey to you. I am leaving you with the Book of God (the Quran) and my Sunnah (the life style and the behavioral mode of the Prophet). If you follow them you will never go astray.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people."
It should be noted of course that there is no single 'last sermon.' There are different accounts from the various schools of thoughts. The reason is simply that there is no record of the entire sermon. There are various hadiths from various collections that say bits and pieces.
Most Sunni Muslims consider Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim to be the main authentic sources. Yet, the final sermon dwells into various other hadith collections... many which are not viewed as authentic.
In any case, the sermon was progressive for its day 1400 years ago. However, progressive in comparison to today or even a hundred years ago? That's a bit of a stretch.